Harry had been born in the Netherlands, the son of a rich gentleman farmer. His father had a big farm with many beautiful horses. As a young boy, Harry learned to ride on champion horses. He learned to ride with the best Dutch riders. He was considered a promising prospect for the Dutch Olympic team, until World War II started. The Nazis confiscated the horses on his father’s farm and after the war everyone was poor. Harry could no longer dream of the Olympics. He and his young bride, Joanna, decided to emigrate to America. They had no money but they were young and ready to work hard. In America Harry worked as a farm hand, found occasions to ride other men’s horses, and saved his money.
The Dutch understand economics. Harry and Joanna saved their money until Harry found a job teaching riding at the school on Long Island. The young couple had saved enough money to buy a small farm. Harry was an excellent rider, maybe one of the best. But riding is a team sport. Even the best rider in the world needs a partner. Riding trophies are won by a team, an exceptional rider and an exceptional horse. Harry was looking for a gifted horse who could be his partner.
Harry hoped that he had found that horse in Sinjon, a horse with a lot of potential that belonged to one of his students. In 1957 Harry took Sinjon to the National Horse Show in Madison Square Gardens.
Some of the world’s most famous boxing matches have been held in Madison Square Gardens, but horse lovers don’t go there to see boxing matches. The New York Times called the National Horse Show “the World Series of the Horse Show Circuit”. Robert Wagner, the mayor of New York, opened the event with television cameras showing the ceremony Live on TV.
The children watched, hoping to see their father. They were proud of him. Harry worked hard on his farm and they often saw him in old work clothes cleaning the horse boxes, standing in dirty straw and horse manure, standing in muck. But when Harry took off his dirty, mucky clothes and put on his best riding clothes, the farm worker became a very handsome gentleman.
On the first day of their first big national competition, Sinjon was nervous, upset by the noise and the big crowd. On the next day he was calmer. Although it was only the second time that Sinjon had competed in a jumper class, he qualified for the evening event.
For the horse show, obstacles, called ‘jumps’, were set up in the center of the famous arena. The space was small, so the horses had to turn quickly in the corners. The spectators sat in seats that rose vertically above the arena, like a loud, noisy wall. The arena was lit from many angles by spotlights that created strange, moving shadows. Photographers’ flash bulbs popped. Sinjon was nervous but he responded when Harry touched his sides with his heels. The big bay gelding leaped forward, cantered around the arena once, then, headed for the first jump. He went over the first and second jumps, touched the third, making a bar fall, then made no more faults. Harry was happy. It wasn’t a perfect score, but Harry and Sinjon won fourth place. Sinjon had showed that he had the ability to compete against the best horses in America. Harry believed that with more experience, in another year, Sinjon could win a top prize.
Then Mr. Dineen came to see Harry. He was smiling and very happy. George Maris, a rider on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team, had seen Sinjon and admired him. He wanted to ride him in the Olympics. It was good news for Mr. Dineen. George Maris was prepared to buy the bay. Mr. Dineen sold his horse for a good price.
It was not good news for Harry. He could not ride in the Olympics because he was not an amateur, but a professional rider. In 1957 the Olympics were only for amateurs. To be a top competitor with the best horses, a horseman is either a professional or a very rich amateur. The Olympic rule against professionals eliminated excellent riders like Harry, who worked very hard but were not rich. Harry had brought Sinjon to the show, but he went home with an empty van. They had come together, as a team. Harry went home alone.
His first National Horse Show taught Harry two important things:
As a rider he was good enough to compete with the best riders in America.
Second, if he did not own his horse, he could win the prize and lose the horse. If he wanted to compete at this level, he needed a good horse of his own, a horse that no one could take away from him.
straw – paille
manure – fumier
muck, mucky – gadou, bourbeux
upset – perturbé, déséquilbré